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Healthy You

Can You Eat Carbs and Still Lose Weight?

Monday, August 23, 2021 12:13 PM

Fall’s cooler temps will soon be here, which means those delicious comfort, high-carb foods on chilly days are also in the forecast. If you’re hoping to lose a few more pandemic pounds, you may be wondering if you can eat carbs and still lose weight?

The short answer is yes! Weight loss depends on a multitude of factors and calories are only part of the equation, explains NorthShore Dietitian Emmaline Rasmussen, MS, RD, LDN.

Carbs, Bread

“Being on a low-carb diet can expedite weight loss for some people, but it’s not always sustainable or the best idea for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight,” Rasmussen said. For pre-surgical patients who are struggling to reach a healthier BMI, Keto or low-carb diets may be prescribed, but for the person trying to shed 10-15 pounds, that’s not what Rasmussen recommends.

Low-carb diets equate to avoiding grains, even whole grains, which have healthy components. People trying to follow low-carb plans also cut out beans and legumes that promote long-term positive health effects.

“Restrictive eating plans can become very monotonous and can negatively impact nutrient diversity. Restrictive or fad diets generally also worsen people’s relationships with food by demonizing certain things or categories, which can then activate a binging cycle,” Rasmussen said. “Food is not just fuel for most of us; it should be enjoyable. I suggest long-term sustainable habits for my patients.”

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best weight loss or meal plan strategy and Rasmussen advises people struggling to lose weight to speak with a registered dietitian.

The amount and kinds of calories recommended for individuals depend on their age and activity level as well as other specific health conditions. A general rule of thumb for a well-balanced diet is: 15-25% protein, 30-35% fat, and 40-55% carbs, explained Rasmussen.

“Generally speaking, I tell my patients that half of their plate should be produce—things like non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens and antioxidant-rich fruit—a quarter of the plate protein and a quarter starch like sweet potato, whole grain pasta or brown rice,” said Rasmussen. She also recommends that most people try to cut back on the amount of red meat they consume, noting that there are an increasing amount of resources to help people learn about plant-based eating.

Rasmussen encourages her patients and anyone working on developing healthy eating habits to avoid thinking and talking about food as “good” or “bad” and instead focus on making more healthy as opposed to less healthful choices, or more nutritious items rather than less nutritious.

Good vs. Bad Carbs
When talking about carbs, a key point to consider is refined versus whole grain carbs, which are always a healthier option. Refined carbs include things like white rice, breads, commercially prepared sweets and packaged goods that contain added sugars and are stripped of nutrients and devoid of fiber.  

Sweet potatoes, brown rice, and quinoa are complex carbs and are far more nutritious and take longer to break down in the body leading to a slower, steadier rise in blood sugar, as opposed to refined carbs that can lead to a spike in blood sugar and cravings for more sugar.

It’s important to balance whole grain carbs with healthy fats and protein including things like avocado, nuts, olive oil and fish, added Rasmussen.

Having healthy snacks on hand, being realistic about goals, and having a plan and focused mindset toward long-term changes are all important steps toward eating more nutritiously and losing weight.